Legal Archive

Spotify files antitrust complaint against Apple in the EU

Spotify, the popular music streaming service from Sweden, has filed an official antitrust complaint against Apple at the European Commission. In a blog post announcing the move, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek writes: It’s why, after careful consideration, Spotify has filed a complaint against Apple with the European Commission (EC), the regulatory body responsible for keeping competition fair and nondiscriminatory. In recent years, Apple has introduced rules to the App Store that purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience—essentially acting as both a player and referee to deliberately disadvantage other app developers. After trying unsuccessfully to resolve the issues directly with Apple, we’re now requesting that the EC take action to ensure fair competition. Apple operates a platform that, for over a billion people around the world, is the gateway to the internet. Apple is both the owner of the iOS platform and the App Store—and a competitor to services like Spotify. In theory, this is fine. But in Apple’s case, they continue to give themselves an unfair advantage at every turn. I don’t think I have to explain to anyone here why Spotify’s CEO is right. In the App Store, Spotify can only make use of Apple’s payment system, and for every Spotify subscription purchased through the iOS application, the company is forced to hand over 30% to Apple. To make matters worse, Spotify is not allowed to include a link to, say, a website where users can sign up for Spotify, nor can the company include any language even hinting at where users can sign up. On top of this, Spotify also states that Apple has blocked new features Spotify wanted to introduce including “locking Spotify and other competitors out of Apple services such as Siri, HomePod, and Apple Watch”. Furthermore, Apple limits the ways in which Spotify and other App Store developers can communicate with their users. This seems like the perfect moment to go after the big technology giants, and I hope something comes of this complaint. Any handle we can use to limit the power of megacorporations is a handle we should grab with both hands.

Here’s how we can break up big tech

Elizabeth Warren, Democratic presidential candidate for the 2020 elections, has said that she intends to break up the big technology companies. Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation. I want a government that makes sure everybody — even the biggest and most powerful companies in America — plays by the rules. And I want to make sure that the next generation of great American tech companies can flourish. To do that, we need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor. That’s why my administration will make big, structural changes to the tech sector to promote more competition — including breaking up Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Warren later added that Apple, too, should be broken up. Another Democratic presidential candidate, Amy Klobuchar, suggests taxing companies who profit off user data, and of course, there’s people like Bernie Sanders, who wants to limit the power of corporations in American politics in general. This poses an interesting conundrum for the American tech giants: they always pretend to be quite left-wing, and up until recently, that’s been an easy thing to do. Now, though, public support for Democrats might actually be to their own detriment. Let’s see how long these companies can maintain their left-wing dog and pony show.

FTC launches task force to monitor monopolies in technology sector

The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition announced the creation of a task force dedicated to monitoring competition in U.S. technology markets, investigating any potential anticompetitive conduct in those markets, and taking enforcement actions when warranted. This is music to my ears, but only time will tell if this new task force has any teeth. The current US administration is held together by string and spit and barely able to even stumble out the door in the morning, so one has to wonder how effective any FTC actions can even be.

Oracle v. Google and the future of software development

Google’s Kent Walker, SVP of Global Affairs & Chief Legal Officer, in a company blog post: Today we asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review our long-running copyright dispute with Oracle over the use of software interfaces. The outcome will have a far-reaching impact on innovation across the computer industry. Standardized software interfaces have driven innovation in software development. They let computer programs interact with each other and let developers easily build technologies for different platforms. Unless the Supreme Court steps in here, the industry will be hamstrung by court decisions finding that the use of software interfaces in creating new programs is not allowed under copyright law. This is one of those rare cases where pretty much everyone I know stands firmly behind Google. Oracle’s lawsuit is scummy, dirty, destructive, and spiteful – Larry Ellison was one of Steve Jobs’ closest friends, and Oracle’s lawsuit started right around the time Jobs vowed to go “thermonuclear war” on Android. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together here. I hope the United States Supreme Court shuts this case down in favour of Google and common sense once and for all.

Google is fined $57 million under Europe’s data privacy law

In the first major example, the French data protection authority announced Monday that it had fined Google 50 million euros, or about $57 million, for not properly disclosing to users how data is collected across its services — including its search engine, Google Maps and YouTube — to present personalized advertisements. The penalty is the largest to date under the European Union privacy law, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, which took effect in May, and shows that regulators are following through on a pledge to use the rules to push back against internet companies whose businesses depend on collecting data. Facebook is also a subject of several investigations by the data protection authorities in Europe. Peanuts for a company like Google, but still – the GDPR at work here.

Software patents poised to make a comeback under new patent office rules

Ars Technica reports that software patents might be making a comeback. A landmark 2014 ruling by the Supreme Court called into question the validity of many software patents. In the wake of that ruling, countless broad software patents became invalid, dealing a blow to litigation-happy patent trolls nationwide. But this week the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) proposed new rules that would make it easier to patent software. If those rules take effect, it could take us back to the bad old days when it was easy to get broad software patents—and to sue companies that accidentally infringe them. What could possibly go wrong?

Samsung’s folding screen tech stolen and sold to China

Samsung's latest bendable screen technology has been stolen and sold to two Chinese companies, according to prosecutors in South Korea.

The Suwon District Prosecutor's Office charged 11 people on Thursday with stealing tech secrets from Samsung (SSNLF), the office said in a statement.

The prosecutors allege that a Samsung supplier leaked blueprints of Samsung's "flexible OLED edge panel 3D lamination" to a company that it had set up. That company then sold the tech secrets to the Chinese firms for nearly $14 million, according to the prosecutors.

Samsung invested 130 million dollars and six years of work to develop this technology - only to have it stolen and sold to Chinese competitors. Crazy.

Antitrust, the App Store, and Apple

Yesterday the Supreme Court held a hearing in the case Apple Inc. v. Pepper. “Pepper” is Robert Pepper, an Apple customer who, along with three other plaintiffs, filed a class action lawsuit alleging that App Store customers have been overcharged for iOS apps, thanks to Apple’s 30% commission that Pepper alleges derives from Apple’s monopolistic control of the App Store.

There are three points to make about this case.

A great examination of the case by Ben Thompson.

US top court hears Apple App Store antitrust dispute

When iPhone users want to edit blemishes out of their selfies, identify stars and constellations or simply join the latest video game craze, they turn to Apple Inc's App Store, where any software application they buy also includes a 30 percent cut for Apple.

That commission is a key issue in a closely watched antitrust case that will reach the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. The nine justices will hear arguments in Apple’s bid to escape damages in a lawsuit accusing it of breaking federal antitrust laws by monopolizing the market for iPhone apps and causing consumers to pay more than they should.

The outcome of this case could have far reaching consequences for Apple.

Copyright Office ruling issues sweeping right to repair reforms

On behalf of the iFixit community, I came to ask for permission to circumvent digital locks in order to fix our stuff. Fortunately, I wasn't alone. Along with Robert and Matt representing Repair.org, I was joined by Cynthia Replogle, iFixit's rockstar lawyer. And Cory Doctorow, Kit Walsh, and Mitch Stoltz from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as Jay 'Saurik' Freeman of Cydia iPhone jailbreaking fame. We also had help from Jef Pearlman and his team of students from Stanford's IP law clinic. Our allies were met with opposition from a variety of moneyed and acronymed interests - the MPAA, RIAA, and the Auto Alliance, to name a few.

Over three full days in LA, we were grilled by the Copyright Office. They wanted details on how cell phone baseband processors work, how automotive telematics systems are different from OBD II diagnostics, why you can’t simply swap in a new Blu-ray drive into an Xbox, and so forth. It was exhausting - for us and for them. But they had done their homework, and asked intelligent questions on a startling variety of topics.

The ruling is out, and thanks to the hard work of these individuals, American consumers have a few more rights regarding repair than they did before. Excellent work, and let's hope this sets a positive precedent.

Facebook under fire as US officials back removal of Zuckerberg

Three state treasurers and a top official from New York have joined a shareholders' motion to install an independent chairman at Facebook, claiming the move would improve governance and accountability.

The move comes as Facebook was presented with a new legal challenge. The technology company has been accused of misleading advertisers by inflating the viewing figures for videos on its site.

A group of US advertisers launched a fraud claim against the social media giant on Tuesday, stating that it had overstated the average viewing time of advertising videos on the site by between 100 and 900pc before reporting them in 2016.

All tech companies are pretty terrible as far as companies go, but Facebook really seems to be going out of its way to lead the pack. As far as I'm concerned, we shut it down. Would anyone really miss it?

Broadband industry sues California over net neutrality bill

Four lobbying groups representing some of the largest telecom companies in the country filed a lawsuit Wednesday opposing California's net neutrality law in an attempt to stop it from going into effect next year.

The four industry groups filing the lawsuit were USTelecom, CTIA, NCTA, and the ACA - groups which represent telecom corporations like AT&T; Verizon Wireless; Charter Communications; and Comcast, and mobile companies like T-Mobile. This is the second lawsuit filed following the passage of California's net neutrality law on Sunday. The first was fired off by the Department of Justice only hours after the bill received its final signature from Governor Jerry Brown.

States' rights totally matter, but only when it comes to oppressing women and buying pointless guns - not when it comes to protecting consumers from the predatory, anti-consumer corporations that line politicians' pockets.

Qualcomm accuses Apple of stealing chip secrets

I've been away for a few days, so there's some backlog for me to chew through.

Qualcomm has unveiled explosive charges against Apple, accusing it of stealing "vast swaths" of confidential information and trade secrets for the purpose of improving the performance of chips provided by rival Intel, according to a court filing.

Qualcomm hopes the court will amend allegations in its existing lawsuit against Apple accusing it of breaching the so called master software agreement that Apple signed when it became a customer of Qualcomm's earlier this decade.

One unlikeable horrible company fighting the other. Am I supposed to root for someone here?

Nintendo sues ROM sites for ‘mass’ copyright infringement

Nintendo has filed a lawsuit against the alleged operator of the popular console ROM sites LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co. The sites are among the most notorious online hubs for pirated games, according to Nintendo, and face millions of dollars in potential damages.

Even ROM sites come in various flavours, from sites merely offering the ROM images for download without using any trademark imagery or logos, all the way up to sites like LoveROMS and LoveRETRO, which use in-browser emulators so you can play the games in question in your browser, all dressed up in trademarked logos ad imagery.

Little to say here - distributing ROMs is illegal, and while the damages Nintendo claims are clearly insane, there's no grey area here.

Google CEO responds to EU Android fine

Google's CEO Sundar Pichai has responded to the EU's antitrust fine regarding Android. The blog post is exactly what you'd expect - a lot of fluffy language about how amazing Android is and how it helps little kids pet bunnies and all that stuff, with remarkably little substance. There's really no actual reply to the three core claims in the EU ruling, which makes the response rather weak.

One part stood out to me though.

The phones made by these companies are all different, but have one thing in common - the ability to run the same applications. This is possible thanks to simple rules that ensure technical compatibility, no matter what the size or shape of the device. No phone maker is even obliged to sign up to these rules - they can use or modify Android in any way they want, just as Amazon has done with its Fire tablets and TV sticks.

This hits at the core of the ruling, because according to the EU, established through years of research and verifiable through leaked copies of the agreements Google signs with Android device makers, the very problem is that Android bans Android device makers from making or shipping Android devices that do not use Google's version of Android. Pichai seems to claim here that that's not true, but this is something that ought to be easily verifiable, and I doubt the EU would hand down this fine if the agreements between Android device makers and Google didn't clearly specify this.

We'll have to wait and see if Google can substantiate all of this, because if not, Pichai just flat-out lied in an official statement from the company.

EU fines Android for $5 billion for Android antitrust violations

Update: here's the full press release. Here's the three main violations:

In particular, Google:

  • has required manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome), as a condition for licensing Google's app store (the Play Store);
  • made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app on their devices; and
  • has prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps from selling even a single smart mobile device running on alternative versions of Android that were not approved by Google (so-called "Android forks").

Original article continues below.


Google has been hit with a record-breaking €4.3 billion ($5 billion) fine by EU regulators for breaking antitrust laws. The European Commission says Google has abused its Android market dominance by bundling its search engine and Chrome apps into the operating system. Google has also allegedly blocked phone makers from creating devices that run forked versions of Android, and "made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators" to exclusively bundle the Google Search app on handsets.

I'm okay with bundling applications, but I'm 100% opposed to large corporations like Google blocking competing companies from running forked versions of Android - allowed through Android's licensing - and wealthy corporations basically buying dominance by sending large sums of money to in this case carriers and manufacturers that smaller companies could never afford.

That being said, I do feel like the way we determine what is and is not corporate behaviour damaging to consumers and the market needs some serious overhaul. I've asked this question on OSNews before, but even though Apple doesn't have the market share to qualify as a monopoly, does anyone really want to argue that Apple - which sucks up virtually all of the profits in the handset market, despite its small marketshare - does not have power and influence over the mobile market akin to Google's? Which player has more influence over a market - the player with 10% market share sucking up 90% of the profits, or the player with 90% marketshare sucking up only 10% of the profits?

I'm no economist so I'm not going to claim I know the answer, but it sure does seem like relying solely on market share to evaluate market dominance seems shortsighted, at best.

Why the Supreme Court’s software patent ban didn’t last

The shifting rules about software patentability reflect a long-running tug of war between the Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit loves software patents; the Supreme Court is more skeptical.

That fight continues today. While the Federal Circuit has invalidated many software patents in the four years since the Alice ruling, it also seems to be looking for legal theories that could justify more software patents. Only continued vigilance from the Supreme Court is likely to ensure things don't get out of hand again.

The 40-year-old Flook ruling remains a key weapon in the Supreme Court's arsenal. It's the court's strongest statement against patenting software. And, while software patent supporters aren't happy about it, it's still the law of the land.

That's the third US legal article in a row, but it's a great article that looks at the history of the tug of war between the Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit.

California net neutrality bill gutted due to AT&T bribes

A California net neutrality bill that could have been the strictest such law in the country was dramatically scaled back yesterday after state lawmakers caved to demands from AT&T and cable lobbyists.

While the California Senate approved the bill with all of its core parts intact last month, a State Assembly committee's Democratic leadership yesterday removed key provisions.

"What happened today was outrageous," Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the bill author, said. "These hostile amendments eviscerate the bill and leave us with a net neutrality bill in name only."

Corruption works.

Online retailers can be forced to collect tax, high court rules

The U.S. Supreme Court freed states and local governments to start collecting billions of dollars in new sales taxes from online retailers, overturning a ruling that had made much of the internet a tax-free zone and put traditional retailers at a disadvantage.

News of the ruling caused shares of Internet retailers including Amazon.com Inc. and Wayfair Inc. to fall.

The court's 1992 decision involving catalog sales had shielded retailers from tax-collection duties if they didn’t have a physical presence in a state. Writing for the 5-4 court Thursday, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that ruling was obsolete in the e-commerce era.

The sticker price not being the actual price you pay at the register is one of those things that always baffles and annoys me whenever I'm visiting the US. It seems odd to me that physical retailers have to charge tax, but online retailers don't. Seems like an odd loophole that needed fixing.